Product: Ford Thunderbird
Agency: J. Walter Thompson, Detroit
Well, by golly, the nuttiest things happen here at the AdReview Viewing Lab. For instance, today, our youngest associate -- who is 8 months old -- took a tiny handful of rice cereal and smeared it on the business end of a videocassette, abruptly changing our choice of advertisements to criticize.
Then, in a turnabout even more unexpected, the staff prepared to eviscerate the new choice -- on the grounds of cliche mongering and sexism -- but abruptly changed its mind.
Changed its mind! This is approximately like God going to an eight-day week. (OK, perhaps we flatter ourselves. Besides, even the Almighty has second thoughts -- dinosaurs, adenoids, Arsenio). So it is with some pride that we bestow our blessing on the introductory spot for the totally cool-looking new Ford Thunderbird.
T-Birds and chicks
Perhaps you recall that the original '55 T-Bird, introduced when Eisenhowers roamed the earth, was also extremely cool-looking. It was, in fact,
|Photo: Ford Motor Co.|
|The 2002 Thunderbird.
Subsequently, for most of the past 46 years, Thunderbirds devolved into ever-more-clunky Ford corporate pieces of ... disappointment. So along, at last, comes something between a 1957 T-bird and a '70 Karman Ghia, with a front end strikingly like one of the Aardman clay-mated talking cars from the Chevron campaign. It's gorgeous, is what it is.
Now, it has often been said that at Ford, quality is Job One. For the immediate purposes of the T-Bird relaunch, that is most definitely not the case. Showing off the car in all its sexy sophistication is Job One.
Erotically charged encounters
And the introductory spot, from J. Walter Thompson, Detroit, does just that. That's why we changed our minds, after initially thinking to pan the commercial for relying on an erotically charged encounter between an exotic babe and a T-Bird owner in some dusty nowhere. As you know, 13.7% of all car/beer/jeans commercials since 1979 have relied on erotically charged encounters between exotic babes and cool guys in dusty nowheres.
In the current example, two cars pull up to an intersection on a lonesome desert highway. One is an expensive black Italian phallo-extender, with a luscious brunette in the passenger seat. The other is a bright red T-Bird, driven by a handsome hunk of manhood. The guy in the black car nods to the T-Bird driver: Wanna race? He guns his engine. Then he gestures to the brunette, who was cast for her exotic beauty and not one single thing else. He wants her to be the flag girl, to start the street race.
Reluctantly, she gets out, walks to the center of the roadway and uses her scarf to flag the racers on. It was at this point of the commercial that AdReview initially lost patience with the unabashed objectification of the woman and the familiarity of the scenario. The only remaining question was how the T-Bird guy would wind up with the babe. Answer: When she waves the scarf, her boyfriend floors it and speeds off. The ultra-cool T-Bird driver merely stays put. "Need a lift?" he asks her. They motor off together.
Fill in the blanks any way you please, bearing in mind that we might have to re-redefine Job One.
Let the stories begin
"Ford Thunderbird," the voice-over intones. "Let the stories begin."
Well, all right, fair enough. We can see how this car, with its combination of looks and legacy, could inspire a series of Route 66-esque stories of the road. And we grudgingly concede that the plot twist is reasonably clever. Ostentatious dork wants to drag, loses girl. Nonchalant Ford owner is confident with his essential T-Birdness, wins girl. Sure, the desolate, love-triangle mise-en-scene is a cliche, but also sort of ... we don't know ... mythic.
Yeah, that's it; these are mythic archetypes. As for the female objectification, let's give credit where credit is due.
The camera loves her, all right, but -- in yet one more stunning turnabout from our expectations -- it leers much longer, and more lovingly, at the car.